For most of his career, whether making records or making movies, Frank Sinatra was a larger than life personae. His charism was legendary. There had been some mighty big singers before the kid from Hoboken came along, but there had never been one who had made such an impact, or become such a sensation as Sinatra. He came onto the scene with a BANG! followed by a tremendous low, only to come back bigger than ever. He ultimately became an icon, and one of the most recognized figures of the twentieth century. Now, some of his most beloved films (and a few not so beloved) are back on DVD for fans to enjoy once again.
In Higher and Higher Sinatra made his movie acting debut in 1943 playing himself. In this "merry musical romp" a household of servants attempt to save their employers from bankruptcy (and therefore their own jobs) by marrying the patriarch's daughter off to a rich young suitor - who can sing. However, this being a light-hearted comedy the rich man doesn't actually have daughter, so the staff pass have a young maid take on the role. Mel Torme, Mary Wickes and Dooley Wilson fill out the downstairs employees for what is a reasonably good film, and a nice showcase for Sinatra's ample singing abilities.
In 1944's Step Lively Sinatra steps into his first top billing in an antic backstage musical based on the Broadway/Marx Brothers movie hit Room Service. The plot revolves around a troubled dramatic play rehearsing in (of all places) the penthouse suite of a hotel. But the the cost of the pricey digs is mounting, and the producers begin to panic about the appeal of their show making any money. Naturally, the chaos increases when the playwright of the play arrives to check on its progress. As it turns out the man can sing like, well, Sinatra. Suddenly the production is turned into a Broadway musical and success is guaranteed. The entertaining cast includes Gloria DeHaven, Adolphe Menjou and Walter Slezak.
It Happened In Brooklyn is a particular favorite of mine. It's not splashy, or even in color, but it has a sweet little story that highlights the softer side of Sinatra and his ability to glow as a sweet young man longing for the simple pleasures of his the hometown he left to serve in the war. The romantic confection combines humor with songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and features one of Sinatra's signature songs, "Time After Time". Kathryn Grayson plays the romantic interest and Peter Lawford appears as the best friend.
The Kissing Bandit and Double Dynamite are hardly worth mentioning. However, the two films do have their fans. Although both were huge box office bombs for Sinatra, the singing is immensely entertaining. I mean, it is Sinatra at his youthful best. And the lovely Kathryn Grayson with the coloratura-voiced once again stars as the gal who catches Sinatra's eye. Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban also appear in this M-G-M musical. The later film features Groucho Marx and Jane Russell in a comedy about a wisecracking waiter, a bookie taking a beating and two bank tellers in love who only seem to lose when they win. Not exactly Shakespeare, but fans of Sinatra will love it.
In The Tender Trap Sinatra is teamed with the adorable Debbie Reynolds. He is a fun-loving, free-spirited Manhattan playboy who becomes the target of Reynolds who is on a one-woman mission of matrimony. The two are delightful as they spar over the topic of domestic bliss and sing songs perfect for both their on-screen and off screen personalities. A tru must-have for the DVD collector of either Sinatra films, Reynolds films, or fun-loving musicals.
And then there's the strange little comedy, Marriage on the Rocks. This one has Deborah Kerr as a bored housewife who accidentally divorces her husband (Sinatra) while on a second honeymoon in Mexico. She then accidentally marries his best friend played by fellow brat packer, Dean Martin. It's not the most believable situation, not is it the best comedy for any of those involved. But it is amusing to watch if only as a curiosity. And the overwhelming charm of Sinatra once again transcends the material as well as the silver screen.
There you have it. A little Sinatra for every taste. And on brand new DVD releases that will no doubt look and sound better than any previous release. I advise you to start replacing those old worn out DVDs (or even VHS tapes) with the latest additions. Then sit back and enjoy the enveloping sounds of Sinatra in your own home. Now that's bound to bring back the longings of every "bobby-soxer".